Tough year to be a commish

Originally Published: November 21, 2006

The FedEx Cup. A new TV contract. Drug testing. PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem has faced his fair share of questions on the issues this year.

Then again, it's been a pretty trying campaign for LPGA commissioner Carolyn Bivens, too. She's lost much of her executive board and has dealt with almost constant criticism in her first full year on the job.

So, which golf commish has had the tougher task in 2006? Bob Harig and Ron Sirak debate in this week's edition of Alternate Shot.

Which commissioner has had the tougher year?

It's been a tough year for Tim Finchem, perhaps the toughest in his 12-year tenure as PGA Tour commissioner. Finchem has been blessed with the presence of Tiger Woods, who came along just two years into his tenure and has helped make the job of negotiating television contracts -- and thus those wild purse increases -- about as simple as making a 2-foot putt.

But this year, Finchem ran into roadblocks. Even with Woods just entering his prime as a golfer, a new television deal was not the slam dunk it had been in the past. The networks were taking a bath, and Finchem negotiated a new six-year deal that chopped off ABC/ESPN and added the Golf Channel but did not bring in significantly more money. It remains to be seen whether casual golf fans will find PGA Tour golf on The Golf Channel -- or if they can even get The Golf Channel.

There there is the issue of steroids and drug testing. Baseball commissioner Bud Selig has seen how it all but took over his sport in 2006 as Barry Bonds chased one of the most remarkable records in the game. Finchem had a chance to make a statement, but instead maintained that golfers don't cheat and that there was no need for testing. Only after Woods spoke up about it and others questioned the wisdom of such thinking did Finchem come back and say the tour would study the issue and come up with a plan.

And, of course, there has been the lingering FedEx Cup schedule, the new concept that will ultimately determine Finchem's legacy. He was correct to see that golf took a beating in the fall and that the season was way too long. He took a page out of NASCAR's book and decided to have a season-long points competition that will conclude with four playoff events and a big bonus to the winner.

But the points race is confusing and rendered all but meaningless by the fact that everybody with a tour card and then some -- 144 players -- will qualify. It's sort of like playing the entire NFL season and then inviting all 32 teams plus those from NFL Europe to the playoffs. It renders the regular season meaningless.

Players for the most part should be thankful for Finchem's reign, as he has helped them achieve great wealth through higher purses and incredible pension benefits. But more and more of them have spoken up when they have viewed Finchem's stance to be wrong. And we've seen him reverse his course on several issues because of it.

Yep, it's been a tough year.

-- Bob Harig


There is no question that Carolyn Bivens has a much tougher job than Tim Finchem, and it is not just because the PGA Tour has a cushy TV deal that subsidizes nearly $300 million a year in prize money while the LPGA scrapes by and actually pays for its television exposure, resulting in about one-sixth the total purse annually.

The main reason it is so much more difficult being commissioner of the women's tour is that the players are a much more complicated -- and interesting -- mix of people.

Because the LPGA membership is multinational and multiethnic in perhaps the most dramatic fashion of any sports organization, achieving a consensus on any issue is extremely difficult.

The guys on the men's tour have one burning social issue at the center of their political agenda that unites them: Lower taxes. Well, make that two issues: Lower taxes and higher purses.

Heck, there is even a rumor that the LPGA has among its membership a minority that among PGA Tour members has yet to get the courage to come out: Democrats.

Tim Finchem is piloting a finely tuned machine handed to him by Deane Beman, and between them they have served as PGA Tour commissioner for 32 years. In the last 31 years there have been seven LPGA commissioners. That's the toll the job takes.

Finchem is trying to make his tour bigger. Bivens is trying to get her tour recognized. That's a lot more difficult.

-- Ron Sirak

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